Allstate Sugar Bowl - Oklahoma v Alabama

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 5 Oklahoma

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2013 record: 11-2 overall, 7-2 in Big 12 Conference (tied 2nd in conference)
2013 postseason: Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama (45-31 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 6/No. 6
Head coach: Bob Stoops (160-39 overall; 160-39 in 15 years at Oklahoma)
Co-offensive coordinators: Josh Heupel (9th year at Oklahoma) and Jay Norvell (6th year)
2013 offensive rankings: 18th rushing offense (223.9 ypg); 90th passing offense (199.1 ypg); 52nd total offense (423 ypg); 40th scoring offense (32.8 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: five
Defensive coordinator: Mike Stoops (eight years at Oklahoma)
2013 defensive rankings: 25th rushing defense (137.6 ypg); 30th passing defense (212.5 ypg);  20th total defense (350.2 ypg); 22nd scoring defense (22.1 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: nine
Location: Norman, Oklahoma
Stadium: Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium (82,112; grass)
Last conference title: 2012 (co-champions with Kansas State)

THE GOOD
The Sooners lay claim to the best defense in the Big 12 conference. The unit finished 20th overall in total defense last season, which is an impressive feat considering the wide-open offenses seen during conference play. The defense is led by outside linebacker Eric Striker. Striker is one of the most intimidating defenders in the country. Not only is the linebacker one of the most explosive edge rushers in college football, but the Sooners move him around throughout the game to keep offenses on their heels. It’s nearly impossible for an offense to key on a specific defender and set their blocking schemes if they don’t know where he’s going to be lined up on a down-by-down basis. The team’s linebackers as a whole are very talented. Leading tackler Frank Shannon won’t play this season due to suspension, but senior Geneo Grissom showed how dangerous he can be opposite Striker with 2.5 sacks against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. And inside linebacker Dominique Alexander was named the 2013 Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Both starting cornerbacks return as does strong safety Quentin Hayes. The defense will also get a boost when the massive (6-6, 334) Jordan Phillips returns to the lineup as the starting nose tackle after missing the final 10 weeks of the season due to a back injury. The Sooners defense is talented, aggressive and experienced. Even if Oklahoma’s offense struggles during stretches, the defense is good enough to win games for them this season.

THE BAD
If the Sooners are going to be earn a spot in the first College Football Playoff, the team absolutely has to be more consistent at the quarterback position. Expectations are sky high for Trevor Knight (see: below) after his surprising and dominant performance against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. Knight has to prove it wasn’t an one-game aberration. The most damning evidence against Oklahoma’s quarterbacks last year was finishing ninth (out of 10 teams) in the Big 12 in passing offense. The ability to stretch the field vertically opens up the rest of the offense, but Oklahoma was never able to do so last year until the bowl game. And for a quarterback to be able to open up the offense, he has to have reliable receivers. Junior wide receiver Sterling Shephard will have to develop into a No. 1 target after finishing second on the team last season with 51 receptions for 603 yards. The Sooners’ other projected starters at wide receiver, Durron Neal and Derrick Woods, combined to make 15 receptions for 205 yards. Consistency at quarterback and wide receiver will be the primary indicator of how successful the Sooners are in 2014.

THE UNKNOWN
The University of Oklahoma suspended two of the team’s most talented players in Shannon and running back Joe Mixon prior to the start of the season for the entirety of 2014 campaign. Plus, the team hoped Missouri transfer Dorial Green-Beckham would be eligible to play this season. The NCAA denied Green-Beckam’s transfer waiver, and the wide receiver will have to wait until next year to make a mark with the Sooners…if he does at all. These are three very talented players that would have contributed plenty to the Sooners this season. Shannon was the team’s leading tackler in 2013. Sophomore Jordan Evans, who played in eight games last season as a true freshman, will take over for Shannon. The Sooners’ passing game will have to rely heavily on Shepard due to the lack of experience with the rest of the team’s wide receivers. Keith Ford and Alex Ross will split reps without the explosive Mixon being a part of the running back stable. Of the three, the junior linebacker’s suspension could prove to be the most problematic this season, while the team will simply have to wait another year to receive contributions from Mixon and Green-Beckham.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Tennessee
The scheduling within the Big 12 Conference is so underwhelming an one-loss Sooners’ squad might be the team on the outside looking in during the inaugural College Football Player. It’s quite possible Oklahoma will slip up at least once during Big 12 play. The reason the Tennessee game is so important is due to it being the team’s only non-conference game against a Power Five opponent. The Volunteers may have been 5-7 last season, but their affiliation with the SEC holds plenty of water. The game will be a test to see how Oklahoma stacks up against the best conference in college football. A resounding victory by Oklahoma will show the Sooners are superior to the SEC’s middle class. And it will leave a positive impression in the playoff committee’s collective mind as the Sooners attempt to navigate their treacherous conference schedule.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: QB Trevor Knight
Knight made it look easy against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. The ball effortlessly flew out of the quarterback’s hand as he broke a Sugar Bowl record with 32 completions for 348 yards and four touchdowns. Knight’s performance in the bowl game leaves a lasting impression on Heisman voters and provides momentum as he enters his first season as a full-time starter. The reality, though, is Knight didn’t play well during the regular season. Knight won the starting job in fall camp last year only to hand the spot back to Blake Bell. Knight’s highest output in a single game before his explosion against Alabama was 171 passing yards. In fact, Knight only passed for 471 yards and five touchdowns during his previous eight appearances. But Knight’s Heisman candidacy is based purely on potential. If Knight can play at the same level seen against Alabama throughout the 2014 campaign, the Sooners will be one of the best teams in college football and the quarterback will be sitting in New York City waiting to hear his name called as the latest Heisman Trophy winner.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Four-star 2017 recruit who decommitted from OSU because Urban Meyer didn’t recognize him commits to USF

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 22: Football players from the University of South Florida Bulls hoist helmets to show unity before play against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Raymond James Stadium on September 22, 2007 in Tampa, Florida.  USF  won 37-10.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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As it turns out, it’s USF that will see a prospect gain from Ohio State’s recruiting loss.

Bruce Judson is a four-star 2017 recruit rated as the No. 37 player at any position in the talent-rich state of Florida.  He committed to Ohio State in January of 2015, becoming one of the first OSU commitments for the 2017 cycle.  In October of 2015, Judson abruptly decommitted from the Buckeyes.

Why?  Generally speaking, there was, in Judson’s opinion, a lack of communication between himself and Meyer post-commitment. “Coach Meyer contacted me enough to get my commitment,” Judson said, “[b]ut after a couple months, he just stopped talking to me.”

Specifically, however, there was one incident that seemed to lead to the decommitment — Meyer not recognizing Judson while on a visit. From SECCountry.com‘s early-May interview with Judson:

Long story short, I was walking in the hallway about to go to the indoor field and work out. (Meyer) was like, ‘Hey.’ I looked around. ‘Come here.’ He was like, ‘How you doing, you like your visit?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ Then he’s like, ‘What up Richard LeCounte? Are you showing this guy (Judson) around?’ I was like, ‘Coach, I’m showing him around.’ He asked me, ‘Who are you?’ I told him Bruce. He said, ‘Oh, Bruce Judson from Florida. The speedy guy.’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘I’m glad that you’re on board and glad you got up here.’ After that, I knew I was de-committing.

Fast-forward nearly three months, and Judson has now given a verbal commitment to USF. And, the fact that the Bulls are at least going to take a peek at the athlete at the quarterback position seemed to tilt the odds in the AAC program’s favor.

“USF told me I can come in my freshman year and work into the quarterback rotation and start at another position,” said Judson told the Orlando Sentinel. “I know I got big shoes to fill … going in trying to step in Quinton Flowers shoes at quarterback. I’m ready to fill his shoes and make something special at USF.”

CFP announces future playoff games (mostly) moved off New Year’s Eve

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 17:  College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy presented by Dr Pepper is seen at Tiger Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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In the face of intense pressure, the College Football Playoff has officially — and finally — blinked.

By most accounts, including the most important metric, television ratings, the New Year’s Eve slot for the College Football Playoff semifinal games was an abject failure.  Despite the ratings bath and the calls from most corners to move the semifinals off New Year’s Eve, the powers that be had (stubbornly) remained steadfast in creating a new “holiday tradition.”

In March, however, the CFP at least somewhat acknowledged an issue, announcing that the start times for the 2016 playoff semifinals, on New Year’s Eve yet again, would be pushed back an hour from the year before.  The thaw continued in April, with executive director Bill Hancock stating that the CFP “will continue to review this matter.”  A couple of weeks ago, Hancock heavily intimated that it would be when, not if the semifinals would be moved off the last day of the year.

Thursday, that (mostly) came to fruition as the CFP announced that all future playoff games through the 2025 season (last year of the current 12-year contract) will be played either on a Saturday or a holiday.  That doesn’t mean that New Year’s Eve is completely off the table, though.

One, the two semifinal games scheduled for New Year’s Eve following the 2016 season will go off as planned as it’s too late in the process to move them off that date; plus, Dec. 31 falls on a Saturday this year and would’ve been played on New Year’s Eve anyway under this new way of doing playoff business.  Secondly, the semifinal games for the 2021 and 2022 seasons will still be played on Dec. 31.  The games for the 2022 season will be played on a Saturday, on a Friday in 2021.

There are significant changes to the rotation, however, as the semifinal games that had been scheduled to be played on New Year’s Eve following the 2018, 2019, 2024 and 2025 seasons will now be played on Saturday, Dec. 29; Saturday, Dec. 28; Saturday, December 28; and Saturday, Dec. 27, respectively.

In the end, it was the right call for the sport and, more importantly, the fans.

“We had healthy discussions with a lot of people who love college football and we concluded that making these changes would be the right thing to do for our fans.” said Hancock in a statement.

“We tried to do something special with New Year’s Eve, even when it fell on a weekday. But after studying this to see if it worked, we think we can do better. These adjustments will allow more people to experience the games they enjoy so much. For these four years, our previous call is reversed.”

Below is how the revamped College Football Playoff rotation will look moving forward:

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Alabama assistant who ‘resigned’ under NCAA cloud lands NFL gig

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 25: The Jacksonville Jaguars cheerleaders wait to run onto the field at the start of the game during the NFL game between Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills at Wembley Stadium on October 25, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)
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Even with that dark cloud handing over his head, Bo Davis didn’t stay unemployed for too long.

In late April, reports surfaced that Davis was expected to resign or be fired as Alabama’s defensive line coach after the school opened an inquiry into possible NCAA violations on the recruiting trail. The nature of the violations were not revealed, but the NCAA had made “multiple” investigations into the matter and Alabama has opened its own corresponding inquiry.

A day later, the Tide announced that Davis had, ahem, “submitted his letter of resignation.”

Nearly three months to the day later, the Jacksonville Jaguars announced that Davis was one of five coaching interns who have been hired by the NFL club.  Davis will be helping the Jaguars with special teams.

Davis’ last foray into the NFL came with Nick Saban‘s Miami Dolphins in 2006.

In Tuscaloosa, Davis was officially replaced by Karl Dunbar a couple of weeks after his “resignation.”  The investigations into the allegations of recruiting improprieties is ongoing.

Surgery to sideline Okla. St. WR Marcell Ateman for start of season

AMES, IA - NOVEMBER 14: Defensive back Nigel Tribune #34 of the Iowa State Cyclones tackles wide receiver Marcell Ateman #3 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys as he rushed for yards in the first half of play at Jack Trice Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Ames, Iowa. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
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Oklahoma State already knew it was going to be forced to replaced the production lost with the departure of leading pass-catcher David Glidden.  Now, at least early on, the Cowboys will have to replace a man who was expected to help replace Glidden’s lost production as well.

According to a report from The Oklahoman, Marcell Ateman may not make his debut this coming season until October because of surgery performed on his foot recently.  Ateman sustained a non-contact injury during summer workouts.

Should Ateman not return until the second month of the season, he would, at minimum, miss games against SE Louisiana (Sept. 3), Central Michigan (Sept. 10), Pittsburgh (Sept. 17) and at Baylor (Sept. 24).  They also have a home date with Texas the first of October.

Ateman’s position coach confirmed the procedure to the newspaper, although he didn’t give a timeline for a return.

“I don’t know [when] that’s going to be,” said Kasey Dunn. “I’m hoping as soon as possible. He’s had a great summer. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. I think he’ll be back probably sooner than later.

“I’m bummed though, because it’s a little bit of a setback for him. His play was going up, up, up. And it all started about Game 6 or 7 last year, where he really started to climb. Played well against Baylor. Played really well against Ole Miss. Had a great offseason. Summer was killer. And then he gets nicked.”

At least one report, and at least in these early stages, is a bit more optimistic:

Ateman’s 45 receptions and 766 receiving yards were each third on the team.  His five touchdown receptions were good for second.

The good news for the Cowboys is that one of their most productive pass-catchers of a year ago, second-team All-Big performer James Washington (53-1087-10), returns, as do four other receivers who caught at least 17 passes in 2015 — Jalen McCleskey (29-253-3), Austin Hays (22-200-1), Jhajuan Seales (18-321-2) and Blake Jarwin (17-200-2).